In Genesis, I can hear a kind of art that pulls as profoundly on the heartstrings as any opera.
For centuries, the arts were seen as expressions of religious devotion. From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, that religious identity with the arts became separated and they became more an expression of human creativity. The themes shifted from divine adoration and contemplation to themes of human love and other passions. Whether the art was visual or musical, written or on stage, it achieved its popularity by giving a grand expression of human experience that was not able to be captured in ordinary language. Art expressed the longing and ineffable emotion of the human spirit. It raised questions and expanded horizons. It was an enlarging lens that showed something about life that was not merely an expression of economic measurement.
Perhaps nothing in our era expresses the expansiveness of human emotions as grand opera. (As I recall) the chandeliers rise, lights are dimmed and symphonic music sweeps over us and we are transported by stories of love and loss, myth and pathos, jealousy and revenge. One can see by the reactions to these performances, that people are touched in ways that are rarely seen or expressed in public. One might ask, “Why would you spend two hundred dollars to hear people sing in some foreign language?” And we can expect to hear someone answer, “Because I feel something there that I don’t feel anywhere else.”
As I have been reading the stories of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in the book of Genesis, I can hear a kind of art that pulls as profoundly on the heartstrings as any opera one might imagine. I can picture these stories being read and elaborated upon as families and communities gathered around bonfires and at dinner tables. “He did WHAT?” I can hear a teenager exclaim when she heard about Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac. I can see the tears of deep sadness as they hear about Joseph being sold into slavery and then CHEERING as he survives this ordeal and rises to power in Egypt. And late in the night I can sense the keen interest when Joseph lives to confront his brothers who came begging for food and ultimately forgives them and is subsequently reunited with his aging father who has his joy restored after years of mourning. Here I can picture the entire village erupting in bravos!!!
Maybe it was our religious tradition that abandoned the humanity of the bible!? Maybe in the wake of certain secular movements the courage was found to cast off a narrow parochial view of life and instead desired to replace it with a rich world of emotional expression. Maybe we are finding that our very own scriptures are really the touchstone and plumbline of true renaissance and enlightenment. In fact, our scriptures point to a fully human experience with real flesh and blood people, people who wrestle with angels and devils, jealousy and envy, but who nonetheless carry within themselves the desire for reconciliation, healing and growth. Bravissimo, for our scriptures and for the depths they reveal and touch within us. May we have the curiosity, courage and commitment to read, mark and inwardly digest our founding texts.